At Sotheby’s | Qianlong Emperor’s Musket Fetches $2.5million

Posted in Art Market by Editor on November 11, 2016


Imperial matchlock musket, made for the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795), Qing Dynasty. The gun bears the imperial reign mark on top of the barrel, and incised on the breech of the barrel are four Chinese characters that denote the gun’s ranking: te deng di yi (‘Supreme Grade, Number One’).

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Press release for Sotheby’s Sale L16215, Lot #1:

‘Supreme Grade, Number One’ Imperial Matchlock Musket
Sotheby’s, London, 9 November 2016

At Sotheby’s in London, the first Chinese firearm with an imperial reign mark ever to be offered at auction sold for £1,985,000 (US$2,461,400 / HK$19,198,920). The gun—a brilliantly designed and exquisitely crafted musket, produced in the imperial workshops—was created for the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (r. 1736–1795), arguably the greatest collector and patron of the arts in Chinese history. Estimated at £1–1.5 million, the firearm ignited a ten-minute bidding battle, finally selling to an Asian private collector.

Robert Bradlow, Senior Director, Chinese Works of Art, Sotheby’s London, said: “This gun ranks as one of the most significant Chinese treasures ever to come to auction. Today’s result will be remembered alongside landmark sales of other extraordinary objects that epitomise the pinnacle of imperial craftsmanship during the Qing dynasty. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen the market for historical Chinese works of art go from strength to strength, with collectors drawn from across the globe and exceptional prices achieved whether the sale is staged in London, Hong Kong, or New York.”

The musket bears not only the imperial reign mark on top of the barrel, but in addition, incised on the breech of the barrel, are four Chinese characters that denote the gun’s peerless ranking—the exceptional grading te deng di yi, ‘Supreme Grade, Number One’. This grading makes it unique among the known extant guns from the imperial workshops and asserts its status as one of the most important firearms produced for the Qianlong Emperor.

The advent of Western firearm technology sparked the production of muskets in the imperial workshops, and this modern mode of weaponry had unquestionable advantages over the traditional bow and arrow for hunting. Using only the most luxurious materials, imperial muskets were created in very small numbers for the Qianlong Emperor. While the Emperor is unlikely ever to have held a gun in battle, he would regularly hunt with a musket.


Anonymous court painter, The Qianlong Emperor Shooting Deer (Beijing: Palace Museum), from The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Armaments and Military Provisions (Hong Kong, 2008), p. 205.

The Supreme Number One is closely related to six celebrated, named imperial Qianlong muskets in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which appear to correspond with seven muskets listed in the Qing work Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty with Illustrations. These guns were probably graded in the same way as the Supreme Number One, but of lower grade and/or number (‘Supreme Grade, Number Two’, ‘Top Grade, Number 2’).

Revered as one of the most powerful ‘Sons of Heaven’, the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799) was the longest-lived and de-facto longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history (r. 1736–1795). In the 60th year of his reign (1795), the eighty-five year old Qianlong Emperor declared his abdication, lest he surpassed the 60-year reign of his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662–1722). In a grand coronation ceremony the following year, his fifteenth son took position of emperor, though the Qianlong Emperor continued to rule China as the Qing dynasty’s only, and China’s last, Emperor Supreme.

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Note (added 11 November 2016) The original version of this posting included a view looking down the barrel of the gun. Once the posting was published, I was struck by how threatening the photo could appear to some (myself included). The point of the posting was to highlight something of the collection (and market interest in the collection) of the Qianlong Emperor. I didn’t mean to make the world a more hostile place. It’s been a tough enough week without more guns pointed at anyone. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry. –CH










U of Michigan Graduate Symposium: All That Glitters

Posted in conferences (to attend), graduate students by Editor on November 11, 2016

The day’s presentations include these eighteenth-century papers:

All That Glitters: Magnificence in Art, Architecture, and Visual Culture
2016 Graduate Symposium
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 12 November 2016

• Philippe L. B. Halbert (Yale University), ‘Our Colony Has Today Become Opulent’: Material Magnificence in the French Atlantic World, 1660–1789
• Emily Anderson (University of Southern California), Magnificent Macabre: The Engravings of the Anatomical Preparations of Frederik Ruysch

Acquisition Appeal | Thomas Lawrence’s Unfinished Portrait Wellington

Posted in museums by Editor on November 11, 2016

An appeal from the NPG:

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Unfinished Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1829, oil on canvas, 94.3 × 74.3 cm (Private Collection).

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Unfinished Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1829, oil on canvas, 94.3 × 74.3 cm (Private Collection).

The National Portrait Gallery has launched a public appeal to acquire Sir Thomas Lawrence’s unfinished final portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, it was announced today, Thursday 3 November 2016. The portrait has been offered to the National Portrait Gallery for £1.3 million. The appeal was kick started today by a donation of £350,000 from the Art Fund, whose generous support means that alongside the Gallery’s own funds, £1 million of the total has already been raised.  The Gallery has £300,000 to raise by spring 2017.

The Gallery has no other significant portrait of the Duke in its Collection, an omission of one of the most iconic and popular figures in British history. The Gallery has been seeking to secure such a portrait since it opened in 1856. This work is one of only two world-class portraits of Wellington ever likely to come up for sale. The leading artist of his age Sir Thomas Lawrence made eight portraits of Wellington and was the Duke’s definitive image maker.

Started in 1829, the year Wellington was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and in which he fought a duel with Lord Winchilsea over the issue of Catholic emancipation, the unfinished portrait shows him in civilian dress with only his black collar and white stock visible. It was commissioned at the height of Wellington’s political career when he was Prime Minister. At the time he was closely involved in the legislation around catholic emancipation and deeply opposed to the reform of the House of Commons. Earlier in the decade he had been involved in the delicate negotiations between the Prince Regent and the Prince’s estranged wife, Queen Caroline. He also represented British interests at the Congress of Verona in 1822, one of a series of conferences on European affairs after the Napoleonic Wars.

The large oil-on-canvas portrait was commissioned a year after Wellington had become Tory Prime Minister by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a leading political hostess and supporter of the Tories in the 1820s. Initially dedicating her social gatherings to the cause of the Whig party, in the late 1820s Lady Jersey switched her allegiance to the Tories, with Wellington becoming one of her favourites. She believed herself to be one of his confidantes, but he mistrusted her ability to keep a secret: earlier in life her loquacity had earned her the nickname ‘Silence’.

At Lawrence’s death in 1830 the portrait remained unfinished. But unlike many other clients, Lady Jersey refused to have it finished by a studio assistant. On hearing that the Duke of Wellington had fallen from power in 1830, Lady Jersey burst into tears in public. She reportedly ‘moved heaven and earth’ against the Reform Act 1832 which Wellington had also opposed.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “We have been searching for a portrait that can do justice to this iconic British hero since 1856. The lack of a suitable depiction of the Duke of Wellington has long been identified as the biggest gap in our collection. If we can raise the funds this remarkable painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence will be on permanent display and free for over two million visitors to enjoy each year.”

Dr Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund Director, says: “The National Portrait Gallery will make a fine home for this intensely compelling portrait of Wellington. We are pleased to have made a major grant towards its purchase, and hope the public will support the appeal to raise the remaining funds. This is a very important national acquisition.”

Dr Lucy Peltz, Senior Curator, 18th-Century Portraits and Head of Collections Displays (Tudor to Regency), National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “This is a compelling portrait of one of the most famous figures in early nineteenth-century Britain. Lawrence was a superlative portrait painter with the flair and talent to capture surface glamour and deeper currents. This unfinished portrait is shot with psychological insight.”

Dan Snow, historian, broadcaster and co-author of The Battle of Waterloo Experience, says: “The ‘Iron Duke’ is one of the towering figures of British history. He never lost a battle, reshaped Europe, and dominated Britain until his death. His career and legacy are intimately involved with the development of the United Kingdom. Now, more than 200 years after his most famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo it’s time we helped the National Portrait Gallery win the day.”

The painting was lent to the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions staged in 2015 to mark the bicentenary year of the Battle of Waterloo. Prior to its loan to the Gallery from a private collection for a short period of display just before the exhibition opened, the portrait, which is in excellent condition, had not been on public view for any significant period since it was painted.



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